THE GUITAR ARTISTRY OF CHARLIE BYRD
Charlie Byrd (g) Keter Betts (b) Buddy Deppenschmidt (drs)
Recorded Washington D.C.; 1961
Taking a Chance on Love (1:55) (Duke-Latouche-Fetter)
Moonlight in Vermont (2:49) (Suessdorf-Blackburn)
Speak Low (3:41) (Weill-Nash)
Nuages (2:59) (Django Reinhardt)
Everything I’ve Got Belongs to You (2:18) (Rodgers & Hart)
Makin’ Whoopee (2:42) (Donaldson-Kahn)
Django (3:22) (John Lewis)
Nice Work If You Can Get It (1:45) (George & Ira Gershwin)
The House of the Rising Sun (5:26) (trad./arr. By Byrd)
Ring Them Harmonics (3:47) (Keter Betts)
Taboo (9:40) (Margarita Lecuona)
To Ginny (5:25) (Charlie Byrd)
Charlie Byrd and I live two blocks apart, in Washington, D.C. But I only see him like at The Village Vanguard in New York, or the Blue Note in Chicago, when that was going, or at jazz festivals. When they were going. I’ll see Charlie in Europe before I ever do in Washington, two blocks away. He works evenings I work days. I’ve gone out evenings to catch Charlie at the Showboat Lounge, but there’s always a line standing to get I and I never could buck a line.
Well, this is already the kind of liner-notes those people hate who hate liner-notes that discuss everything but the music on the record. Or we could just listen to the music. No? Gotta talk about it, huh? All right. Back tour music in a moment, folk; but first:
The guitar is the perfect instrument for a restless musician. Like the piano, which it supplanted in early jazz groups, the guitar is an orchestra – totally, even more so than the piano. It can be quite literally a section part or a solo horn. It can be the combo backing a singer. A whole band rides on a rhythm vehicle when Freddie Greene’s guitar is the fourth wheel.
Imagine trying to do it all at once: improvising interesting melodies, keeping strict tempo and an urgent beat, following the harmonic pattern directed by the composer, staying in tune, mining the tone spectrum. Pleasing the boss, the spectator the critic, oneself. Paying the rent. Whew!
Charlie Byrd plays the whole guitar, the way Dick McDonough used to. Eddie Lang was a single-string man, Carl Kress liked chords, but McDonough did both. Without imitating them (except when he wants to), Charlie echoes all three in his playing – plus George Van Eps, Django Reinghardt, Charlie Christina, Andres Segovia, and Nashville. He recognizes no boundaries. He recognizes territories. He regards himself as a citizen of each.
It’s his versatility that got Charlie into Time Magazine. The lay press is astonished by anyone who can’t be stereotyped, and whoever heard of a feller playing “both jazz and the classics”??? Good. The Time story directly or indirectly led to festival work, trips with Woody Herman, the cover of Down Beat, and more recording, “both jazz and the classics”. It also brought more people to the Showboat to hear Charlie in person, making it possible for him to demand more money and nobody seated while the artist is on.
Why did people come in the first place? Before the Time piece, I mean.
The answer is presentation. Charlie planned his programs; he did obvious things like giving a short history of the guitar, with impersonations of its principal players; and he spoke to the audience, telling them what they were going to hear and how it related to the grand design of music. Uncool? People shouldn’t have to be told? The music is enough? Yes, if the musicians is playing free, for himself or his gang. I’ll vote against the sullying of music by words whenever critics stop taking money for writing words about music, including record liner-notes.
All right, what’s in the album?
Side One is all shorties, ideal for improving the space between commercials, assuming commercial radio stations still leave space between commercials.
Side Two’s selections give the musicians more room. These longer tracks will be welcomed by the more adventurous, or poorer, radio men, the two adjectives being synonymous in radio today. The House of the Rising Sun is a sort of rock-pile waltz on two chords. Young drummer Buddy Deppenschmidt (born Philadelphia, lived Richmond, ex-Billy Buterfield) beats this one in the direction of less sophisticated tastes than for his introduction to Taboo. In Ring Them Harmonics, Keter Betts gives himself a bass solo and stirs up the congregation all the way to the King Porter amen. Charlie’s To Ginny (his wife) is good two-beat excitement. The unison octaves are in perfect tune. Asked how long it takes bass and guitar to tune up, Charlie says, “Sometimes it takes all night.” My favorites on the first side are Nice Work If You Can Get It, virtually a guitar duet, and Nuages, a beautiful Django Reinhardt tune.
This record spices satisfaction with challenge. I’m glad I have it. I programmed it for the Voice of America today, and I’m taking it with me to New York for tomorrow’s CBS radio show. Charlie, you’re reversing Hitler: today the world, tomorrow New York.
(Willis Conover is best described as one of the world’s best-known spokesmen for jazz,
particularly because of his years of broadcasting the “Music, USA” program over the Voice of America.
He is also writer, Stateside disc jockey – over WCBS, and all-round fellow.)
CHARLIE BYRD’s other Riverside albums include –
Once More!: Charlie Byrd’s Bossa Nova (454; Stereo 9454)
Bossa Nova Pelos Passaros (436; Stereo 9436)
Latin Impressions (427; Stereo 9427)
Byrd’s Word (448; Stereo 9448)
Byrd in the Wind (449; Stereo 9449)
Mr. Guitar (450; Stereo 9450)
Charlie Byrd at The Village Vanguard (452; Stereo 9452)
Blues Sonata (453; Stereo 9453)
This recording is available in both Stereophonic (RS 9451) and Monaural (RM 451) form.
Recorded at Edgewood Studios (Washington, D.C.)
Album design: KEN DEARDOFF
Back liner photo by LAWRENCE N. SHUSTAK
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are produced by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS, Inc.
235 West 46th Street, New York City 36, New York